Beijing and Hong Kong authorities have insisted that the city’s residents enjoy unprecedented freedoms under the law, after the US accused the Chinese Communist Party of having “systematically dismantled” the city’s political rights and autonomy last year.
Both the Chinese foreign ministry’s Hong Kong office and the local government issued separate statements on Wednesday rebutting US State Department criticisms contained in its “2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices”, with the former pointedly noting that the city “is a part of China”, and not the concern of the United States.
“We urge the US to … manage its own house well, earnestly abide by international law and basic norms governing international relations, and stop meddling with Hong Kong affairs and China’s internal affairs,” a spokesman for the ministry’s local office said.
Do you have questions about the biggest topics and trends from around the world? Get the answers with SCMP Knowledge, our new platform of curated content with explainers, FAQs, analyses and infographics brought to you by our award-winning team.
The State Department report was particularly critical of the Beijing-imposed national security law, which it said had established official bodies “with sweeping powers and negligible public oversight”. The report characterised the law as broadly defined, accusing it of leading to a number of “arbitrary” arrests, restrictions on citizens criticising the government, self-censorship and changes to school curriculums.
The department also termed the central government’s actions a “violation of its international commitments” and the spirit of the “one country, two systems” framework, under which Hong Kong was promised a high degree of autonomy upon its return to China in 1997.
Because its scope was limited to the 2020 calendar year, the report did not mention Beijing’s latest moves to overhaul Hong Kong’s electoral system. Approved by Beijing’s top legislature on Tuesday, the sweeping measures cut the number of directly elected seats in Hong Kong’s legislature from half to about a fifth, and give greater powers to the establishment-dominated committee that selects the city’s chief executive.
The State Department report also expressed doubts and concerns over recent prosecutorial decisions, the city’s judicial independence, the postponement of Legislative Council polls last year and new oath-taking requirements for public officers.
Responding to the report, a Hong Kong government spokesman said: “Human rights are fully protected by law in Hong Kong … Since the implementation of the National Security Law, stability has been restored to society and national security has been safeguarded in [Hong Kong].
“Our people can continue to enjoy their basic rights and freedoms in accordance with the law. A stable environment is vitally important to the business activities of both local and overseas enterprises in Hong Kong,” he added.
The spokesman said it was also groundless for the report to question China’s willingness to uphold the “one country, two systems” principle, and defended the independence of Hong Kong’s courts.
“All prosecutorial decisions are made independently based on objective assessment of all admissible evidence, applicable laws and the Prosecution Code, without political consideration,” he added.
“Any demand or statement purporting to interfere with the prosecutorial decisions and process … not only disrespects [Hong Kong’s] judicial system and undermines the spirit of the rule of law, but also attempts to meddle in Hong Kong’s affairs, which are internal affairs of [China].”
The spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry’s Hong Kong office also reaffirmed Beijing’s commitment to “one country, two systems”.
“Hong Kong people enjoy unprecedented rights and freedoms under the law,” he said.
The spokesman went on to describe the US report as making “a total mockery of human rights”, arguing that the US lagged behind Hong Kong in global rankings both for freedom and the rule of law.
“Its own human rights situation is bleak … Nevertheless, the US has turned a blind eye to the problems at home and continued to proclaim itself as a ‘champion of human rights’,” he added.